Sunday, 30 June 2013

PLAY THE GAME?



So many things to say about the surveillance state, but I couldn’t put it better than Scahill and Greenwald, so I’ll leave it to them. I can’t recommend the vid above highly enough if you have any interest in hearing from two true American patriots and are not frightened of the word socialism.

But enough about them, let’s talk about me.

Ambassador Roos or his underlings haven’t seen fit to reply to my question I asked him last week about whether the country he represents is recording all my digital communications with the world. But perhaps he didn’t see any need to answer because almost certainly the US government (and Blighty, let’s not forget) are spying on me. I know this because they are almost certainly spying on you too. Everyone, in fact. They’ve got the whole digital world in their hands. There has been no denial of spying. There has been no denial of the secret government agreements to have backdoor access to every Microsoft, Google and Apple product that we have ever used since 2007.

And while I’m not so conceited to believe the US government gives two figs what I’m up to--I mean, why should they?--I also appreciate that they are going to treat me as they do every other foreigner (and American citizen) as a potential threat/problem/number. In other words, all my email conversations, twitter rants, facebook photos, Skype chats and Google searches for scantily clad women are being kept forever in a vault in some buttfuck desert town where they are glad of the jobs ever since Wal-Mart drove out all the local businesses before closing down.

Yours are too.

Like Snowden, like Greenwald, like Scahill, like any sane person who has thought about the issues at stake for more than a soundbite, this is not the world I want to live in or want my children to live in.

So, what can I do? I don’t really know. But here are some starting points that resonate with me.

  1. I will not play their game.
  2. I will speak my mind.
  3. I will not be scared.
  4. I will stand up for those who are standing up for me.
  5. I will not back down.
As a first symbolic act, I have disabled my Sitemeter hit counter on this blog. From now on I will not be secretly tracking which mad fuckers are still reading this blog. I can hardly rail against the state for collecting metadata from folk if I am too, can I?

I’m not playing their game anymore.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

NOTHING TO HIDE 2020


“We don’t have anything really big on him, yet. He once wrote a disparaging letter to the US Ambassador to Japan.”
“Kardashian?”
“No, the one before, Roos.”
“Roos? Never heard of her. You can’t find any more recent dirt than that?”
“It’s tough. He went offline in 2014. Made a big fuss about individualism and something called the Magna Carta and privacy.”
“Those are terror code words.”
“I know. The crawler flagged those suckers pronto.”
“Wait. back up. Did you say offline?
“Yeah. Completely.”
“Gmail?”
“Nope.”
“iPhone?”
“Nope?”
“XHamster?”
“Not even that.”
“Man. What does he do with his time?”
“I did an analog.”
“And?”
“He reads a lot now.”
“Jesus. Books?”
“Yeah. Sometimes one a week.”
“My God. What’s he into? Let me guess, freak-show shit?”
“Totally. De Tocquerville, Vonnegut and Strunk and White. All dead.”
“Reading the dead is a misdemeanor. We need something to put him away for good.
“There was something. But I wanted to clear it with a super, before I was sure.”
“Go on, I’m listening.”
“Well, the year before he went offline. He posted the word lifegasm and I think he meant it ironically.”
“My God. Irony.”
“An Act of Terrorism in all 50 states and Homeland Territories since Democratic Martial Law was declared and...”
“I know.”
“...back-dated to any instance since the year 2000.”
“Well done, we’ve got the bastard. Fire the drone under authority of Suspicion of Engaging in Unpatriotic Verbage.”
“Already have, sir!”

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Letter to the US Ambassador to Japan @AmbassadorRoos


So, I fired this off to Ambassador Roos a couple of minutes ago. I could have gone on, but seems to me that there is only really one pertinent question that I have a right to ask: is the US spying on me and my fellow residents of Japan? It's naive of me to expect a reply, but before I begin ascribing evil intent to the higher ups, I should at least follow protocol.

But I don't know what the protocol is for complaining about the surveillance state, so I just wrote an email, sent it to the only US embassy email address I had and put Mr Roos' twitter handle in the post headline. Someone in the know should read it.

Full transcript as follows, and a little easy listening too:


To John V. Roos, US Ambassador to Japan

Sir,

Speaking as a resident of Japan, tapping away on my Apple computer, reading my Amazon tablet and posting this letter on gmail (and my Google-powered blog), it occurs to me I need to ask whether the US government been monitoring, recording or (dare I say) spying on my actions.

I realise that you are under no obligation to answer such a question, one that I naively posed to you in tweet three days ago. You probably have a policy not to comment on matters of intelligence, and certainly a wise one would be not to respond to every nutty tweet you receive (especially one from me), but I'm not talking about The Third Man cloak and dagger intelligence no doubt perpetrated by every great power given half a chance.

No, this is a question about spying on an entirely different scale, as I'm sure you appreciate. The recent allegations from former NSA operative Edward Snowden of widespread data-mining of millions of Americans have really disturbed me. I hope the allegations disturbed you and turn out to be untrue, because taken at face value they paint a picture of a surveillance state that, by its very existence, has quashed the democracy it was supposed to have been safeguarding.

But of particular concern to me, is that while it appears recent US laws have enshrined, at least theoretically, a legal framework to decide whether a surveillance operation on US citizens may go ahead, there is not even that flimsy theoretical protection for non-US citizens. In other words, foreigners, innocent of any crime, or even suspicion of committing any crime, are fair game to have their data recorded and used at the US government's whim, with no legal recourse. This doesn't strike me as very democratic, if true.

Maybe writing this open letter is an act of folly, but beneath my smart-ass blogger shell beats the heart of an idealist who still believes the United States has a core decency capable of turning the ship of state away from the totalitarian rocks it appears to be hell-bent on striking.

It's sad that it has come to this, that I have reason to ask: Is the United States government spying on the general public of Japan?

Given recent revelations, it's a reasonable question that I hope you will see fit to answer.

Patrick Sherriff,
Abiko


Saturday, 8 June 2013

NOTHING TO HIDE


I'm late to the game again. But just to recap in case you missed the biggest story in the history of data entry or something, the US government has been spying on us.

As far as I can tell, they have real time access to everyone's phone calls, digital communications and require no warrant. And I'm not even exaggerating or re-living some teenage paranoid fantasy. Take it as gospel that everything you or I have ever done online is being snooped on by some spotty wannabe drone pilot in suburban Idaho. Or will be at some secret organisation's discretion. But that's not even very shocking.

What's really shocking is the lack of outrage. The hip thing to do is make a joke about calling the government to find your lost keys, shrug your virtual shoulders and say, "Yeah, I already knew they have our data. Hell, I give it away for free to Google, Apple and Amazon everyday, I've got nothing to hide."

Well, bully for you. May Our Man gently recommend reading Why privacy matters even if you have nothing to hide which might debunk you of some heavy bunk. It did for me. Basically, should you trust the state to keep your best interests at heart? (no) Keep your data secure, even if its intentions are pure? (no) Accurately interpret what the data means without accidentally assuming you were a dangerous lunatic and launching a drone strike on your bedroom because you bought a copy of George Bush's Decision Points and Tony Blair's A Journey on the same day? (no. Actually, I have no problem with this assessment.) I could go on, but just read the goddamned article and leave me in peace to catch my train of thought.

Oh yeah, the biggest threat.

The biggest threat is that the saner ones among us (use your imagination here) realise this whole social media internet connection thing actually is a thinly veiled Orwell-meets-Kafka bureaucratic big brother trap and they drop out, go offline and disappear or are so scared to behave in anyway that would mark them as abnormal to our higher ups that they lead a freakish fake public life that has no bearing on their true allegiances. Like a blog, er, for instance. Hmmm. Secret state wins.

You know what beats secrecy? Openness. So the state has a secret treasure trove of titbits it can use against the individual, lose or fuck up. Maybe setting up an open record of our identities that can be independently accessed is the only defence. Pervert my data, misuse my identity, set me up, but know this: everyone can see what you're doing because you don't control the only record.

Works for me. My name's Patrick Sherriff, but you already knew that.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

PARDON MY FRENCH


If you haven't already, go and read this Asahi Shimbun article about the highly hyped billions that were supposed to flow into the coffers of the disaster-stricken prefectures and, one could hope, into the pockets of the 300,000 displaced survivors of the 2011 tsunami living in shanty towns and on the floors of their relatives' shacks. If they have any family members left.

We are not talking meaningless amounts of money. We're talking ¥200 billion -- $2 billion. And what does the government, and more to the point, the survivors have to show for all this? Pardon my French, but fuck all. Or as the Asahi puts it:


Counting sea turtles, publicizing a green-haired mascot and promoting a manga event with an “idol” group were among prefectural projects financed by an emergency employment budget intended to help victims of the March 2011 disaster.
But no one displaced by the disaster was actually hired for these projects.
The employment measures budget, worth 200 billion yen ($2 billion), was designed to provide livelihoods for people in the Tohoku region who lost their homes or jobs after the Great East Japan Earthquake. However, the government’s ambiguous wording has allowed prefectures to freely spend the money on jobs for local residents.
Of the 200 billion yen, 108.5 billion yen went to 38 prefectures other than the nine damaged by the quake and tsunami on March 11, 2011.
The Asahi Shimbun has found that disaster victims accounted for only 2,000--or 3 percent--of the 65,000 employed by these prefectures in fiscal 2011 and 2012.

This is all par for the course, unsurprising to a silhouette who is beginning to feel the cynicism of old return, despite his best intentions to believe that we can do better. That we do actually give a shit about our fellow human beings and not just the votes that they posses to keep the charlatans and their sycophants living on easy street. But I have to wonder. And more depressing than the jobs for the boys is the news that the Abe government has no clue or intention of chasing up these wasted billions. And in fact is readying to pump in trillions more. Trillions, that is ¥25 trillion over the next five years.

But with no accounting for the spending, no enforcement of standards or punishment for transgressions, oh and no ethics, I'm left wondering what on earth this hype about Abenomics means. As far as I can tell it amounts to jobs for the boys, business as usual and one massive fuck-you to the survivors of the tsunami.

I hope I'm wrong.